Smithsonian’s Gus Casely-Hayford Will Lead Hotly Anticipated New Victoria & Albert Museum Outpost in London

V&A East director Gus Casely-Hayford.


In November of 2018, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London announced a new expansion, V&A East, to be erected on the site of the 2012 London Olympics. Now that museum has its first leader: British historian and curator Gus Casely-Hayford.

For the last year, Casely-Hayford has directed the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C. His new job means he will return to London, where he will oversee creative strategy and programming at the East Bank museum and its adjacent collection storage and research center. The V&A East and its research center are due to open to the public in 2023. He begins his tenure in the spring of 2020.

“We are going to craft dynamic and compelling ways for our audiences to get close to the extraordinary, to be transported across time and geography by the most beautiful and intriguing things,” Casely-Hayford, a former executive director of arts strategy at Arts Council England, told the Guardian.

V&A East is projected to bring in 1 million visitors a year—about a quarter of the amount of people who come through the V&A’s main space in South Kensington. While programming across the East London campus will be geared toward contemporary issues, Tim Reeve, the V&A’s deputy director, described the two projects as “non-identical twins”. Curators at the V&A East museum will collaborate with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. on loans and jointly curated exhibitions within the museum’s 9,000-square-foot main gallery. The research center is dedicated to developing new strategies for visitor engagement.

Internal render view of the new V&A collection and research centre

Internal render view of the new V&A collection and research centre.


The new V&A branch will form just one part of a larger culture center planned on the former Olympic site—a project first dubbed “Olympicopolis” by Boris Johnson, then the British capital’s mayor. Also situated in the space are a new Sadlers Wells dance venue, a London College of Fashion campus, and an additional branch of BBC studios.

“What we want is a cross between the British Museum and the V&A in South Kensington,” Johnson reportedly told Nicholas Coleridge, the chairman of the V&A Museum, “We want the Babylonian Palace of Tiglath-Pileser!” The stately designs of Dublin architects O’Donnell + Tuomey will hopefully suffice.

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